Butterfly exhibit showcases need for protection

By Shannon Kelley

An owl butterfly from Costa Rica. Photo by Peter Hope.
An owl butterfly from Costa Rica. Photo by Peter Hope.

Of 20,000 different species of butterflies around the world, about 50 tropical butterflies and moths will be featured in the new Butterflies, Live! ECHO exhibit beginning Saturday. The ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, located on 1 College St. in Burlington, is a science center and aquarium. ECHO has been planning, building and training for the new exhibit for almost a year. “It is easy to love the butterflies: they are gentle, unique, and altogether worthy of protection,” said Erin Buckley, ’17, ECHO’s public programs education intern. “I think the hope is that this love will translate into environmental stewardship.”

The butterflies and moths will be kept in a 30 by 20 foot pavilion filled with tropical plants as well as special lighting that allows visitors to walk inside the exhibit. These insects are used to being in tropical rainforests; the point of the special lighting is to make the butterflies feel at home since they love light and heat.

“Seeing these tropical butterflies for the first time, you are immediately struck with the question – how did nature produce this extraordinary, delicate, and fragile marvel?”said Erik Oliver, the director of development and communications at ECHO.
Worldwide, butterflies are being affected by both climate change and deforestation. The creators of the exhibit said that it is the job of humans to protect these precious and delicate creatures.

“In bringing the butterflies to Vermont, our hope is to introduce this biophilia to people here in hopes that they, in turn, work to preserve the habitat of the butterflies in their backyard” Buckley said.

The problem with climate change is that the plants are blooming much faster than the butterflies are coming out of their cocoons’. The flowers have often passed their bloom time once the butterflies emerge. This makes it hard for the butterflies to find food to eat so they are dying fast, putting them at risk.

According to Scott Lewins, a St. Michael’s College biology professor, “[Climate change] is all about shifting the timing of things based on environmental cues.” For purposes of the exhibit having live butterflies for eight months, the pavilion at the ECHO will allow workers to time the blooming of the plants with the birth of the butterflies based on the heating and the light of the pavilion.

There will be a dark entrance vestibule for visitors to get into the pavilion. According to Steve Smith, the director of animal care and facilities management at ECHO. When families are leaving, there will be staff waiting at the end of the hallway to make sure that there are no stray butterflies hiding on the visitors.

Buckley said that she loves working for ECHO because of their commitment to the environment that is “right outside the window.”

“ECHO is a wonderful place because it provides opportunities for children to practice being scientists without them really being aware of it. It fosters exploration and curiosity through games and activities, and I have noticed a lot of children really enjoying the chance to explore and question everything,” Buckley said.

This exhibit will give children, and college students, the opportunity to learn about the butterflies, the environment in which they live within, and the climate change in a unique and interactive way.

The exhibit runs from Saturday to Monday, Sept. 4. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5p.m. all days of the week.